As cat owners, we spend a lot of time trying to interpret why cats do the things they do. We presume they meow at us when they want something, weave in and out of our legs as a sign of affection, show us their bellies as a sign of trust.
What about those times when our cats literally seem to groom us? They wash our hair, faces, and hands with rasping licks. There are several thoughts as to why this might be but in reality, we can only make educated guesses in context.
A gentle lick from a Maine Coon could be a sign of affection, especially when it’s accompanied by purring. If your cat’s licking feels more urgent or manic, it might be stressed or anxious. When licks become sucking, there’s a chance your Maine Coon was simply weaned too early.
While it’s difficult to truly establish if cats feel complex emotions such as love, I’m certain that most of the time they lick us because they have strong feelings for us.
Mother cats lick their kittens to keep them clean. Maine Coons lick themselves as part of their grooming regime. They lick each other as a sign of closeness so may lick us because they think we’re cats too!
Being licked is one part of cat ownership that you just have to learn to accept and it isn’t usually anything to worry about. Some Maine Coons lick people more than others.
Why does my Maine Coons lick me?
Are you often subjected to the feel of that rough little cat tongue? Here are 7 popular theories as to why your Maine Coon might not be able to resist licking you:
As a sign of affection
If your Maine Coon licks you, don’t be alarmed. Just as you lavish affection upon it by stroking it or giving it a hug, your Maine Coon reciprocates by licking you.
This may not happen as much as its other displays of affection such as rubbing against your legs so when you do get a lick you can be sure your cat is demonstrating strong feelings for you.
If your cat wakes you by licking you, it is seeking some attention from you in return – it probably wants you to get up and feed it!
There are a variety of ways in which a Maine Coon will demonstrate affection for you. There’s nothing more intimates than it giving you a lick.
When your cat goes as far as touching you with its tongue you can be sure a strong bond has developed between the two of you. Prior to this, your cat may have been building up to this level of affection by:
- following you around.
- rubbing against you.
- purring loudly in your company.
- dropping at your feet and rolling onto its back to expose its belly to you.
If you’re wondering why your Maine Coon licks you and no other member of the family you can feel honored as it’s you it feels the strongest bond with. Maybe you’re the one who cares for it the most when it comes to feeding and giving it
Though you might imagine it is females who might more readily demonstrate their affection towards you, with Maine Coons it is the more outgoing males who are more likely to display their love for you by giving you a lick.
Marking you as its territory
Like all cats, Maine Coon’s use pheromones to mark their territory. These are found in their urine, in glands on their faces and in their saliva.
As well as marking what they consider to be their property by spraying their urine on it, Maine Coons can also mark their territory in a more sociable way by licking things and rubbing their heads against them.
So when your Maine Coon licks you or rubs its face against you, it is actually staking a claim to you. It is confirming how important you are to it and letting other household cats know who you belong to.
You may notice that any other cats you own steer clear of you if one of your cats has marked you in this way. They can smell that you belong to that particular cat.
If you own a pair of related Maine Coons such as siblings, you may notice that they groom each other from time to time. This is known as social grooming whereby they help to keep each other clean, particularly in hard to reach places such as the tops of each other’s heads. There are times when they lose patience with each other during this ritual and may bite or cuff each other.
When your Maine Coon licks you it could actually be grooming you as it would another cat. It is bonding with you and claiming you as part of its family.
It may even nip at you just as it might another cat in its social group so watch for the signs of this happening and gently move away. Don’t shout at your cat or punish it in any way if it does bite you during one of these grooming sessions as you could break that special bond.
It feels anxious or stressed
Occasionally a Maine Coon might lick you because it is feeling anxious or stressed.
A bit like exercise releases feel-good endorphins in humans, licking releases these same hormones in cats. They interact with the receptors in the brain that reduce the perception of pain and trigger a positive feeling in the body in a similar way to morphine.
So if your Maine Coon licks you and it doesn’t feel like it is showing you affection it could be trying to de-stress itself or relieve anxious feelings. You will have to look for any causes of stress and try to eliminate them.
Changes to routine can be the cause. For instance, if the person who usually feeds your Maine Coon is away, it might be fretting over this change.
Or there could be a problem with another household cat or a neighborhood cat passing through the garden. Stress affects Maine Coons for many reasons. Read more about these here.
If symptoms persist no matter how you try to alleviate them, consult your vet to see if your cat has an underlying medical condition.
It believes your are anxious or stressed
Maine Coons are sensitive to human moods. So if their owner appears ill, stressed or upset they may give them a lick in an attempt to make them feel better. These are intelligent cats. They are aware of how licking makes them feel calmer and believe it will work for you too.
Weaned Too Young
Weaning of a Maine Coon kitten should begin at the age of 4 weeks. At this stage, a little kitten food is introduced to complement its mother’s milk. By the age of 8 to 10 weeks, a kitten should be fully weaned. It is known for this to be delayed a little in Maine Coons.
If for any reason a Maine Coon kitten is weaned too young, this can trigger it to suckle on all sorts of things, including its owner’s fingers, toes, ears, and nose. This behavior could continue throughout its life but there are gentle ways in which you can discourage it.
You can gently push them away or try putting your hand between their mouths and the area they are attempting to suckle on. If this isn’t successful, carefully place them on the floor. Patience is the key and if you persevere you will be able to break the habit.
You just taste nice!
Sometimes your Maine Coon might lick you because it has detected a nice flavor on your skin. You may have traces of your food or its food on your fingers or be wearing a lotion that it finds irresistible. You may have handled one of its catnip impregnated toys or a herb from your garden.
Weirdly, a Maine Coon can also be attracted to the scent of bleach or chlorine; stinky shoes and socks; shampoo and perfume. So if you have been handling any of these your cat may have a lick of you to absorb the taste.
What if you hate being licked?
Not everyone relishes the idea of being licked by their cat. It may be a bit of a novelty at first but it can become annoying. It also leaves a rather unpleasant odor on your skin or hair. Some people find cat-licks quite uncomfortable and even painful.
A Maine Coon’s tongue is covered with tiny, backward-facing barbs (technical name – papillae). These create that rough sensation you feel when a cat licks you. The barbs have a couple of important functions:
- They make it easier for a cat to rasp meat from bones
- They aid in grooming as they collect dirt, debris and loose hair from its coat
So, how can you try to prevent your cat from licking you without causing any upset?
The best way is to look for the signs that a lick is imminent and distract your cat. Use a favorite toy, for example, a fishing wand or laser pointer, and have a good play session.
Here are some methods I do NOT suggest you use:
- A water spray. Many people seem to use a water spray to deter their cats from doing things they don’t want them to do. I would never recommend this as there is a big chance that your cat could lose its trust in you.
- Put the cat in another room. If you remove your cat to another room it is likely to follow you back out unless you close the door. If you close the door your cat will probably meow to be let back in. A cat will not understand why you have separated it from you.
- Getting cross. Never raise your voice or punish a cat by smacking it. This will only serve to frighten your cat and destroy its bond with you.
Some Maine Coons will lick you and some won’t. Accept that this sometimes goes with the territory of cat-owning. You might not like it that much but it isn’t exactly doing you any harm.
Most of the time, your cat licks you to show that it loves you. Try to accept this little show of affection for what it is. Accept it and scrub yourself clean later, when your cat isn’t looking – after all, you don’t want to hurt its feelings!